Comissiona leads BSO in stirring Shostakovich symphony

January 11, 1991|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,Evening Sun Staff

MUSIC, AS Wallace Stevens suggests, was feeling rather than sound last night at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra under its old boss Sergui Comissiona put on a sure-fire display of the bitterness, rage and yearnings that Dmitri Shostakovich poured into his "Symphony No. 10" in 1953 after Stalin died.

Comissiona says he loves Shostakovich. Few could doubt it as he extracted from the BSO "the 10th's enormous span of feelings" let loose by the twice censured composer in that one summer of composing, eating, sleeping and composing once Stalin was gone. BSO strings and brass were the broad emotions and the woodwinds and percussion the specific ones. It was striking how the orchestra sustained the Russian epic's power so masterfully for a full hour.

Each movement's core was pure emotion but always controlled -- the brooding first, the grotesque and anti-Stalin second, the third's long Siberian winter of the soul, and finally, the valiant stubbornness breaking through depression.

The first movement, twice as long as any other, covered emotional ground returned to later: melancholy, despair, agitation, hope. Instruments mimicked each other from the start when brooding cellos were followed by brooding violins and violas.

Exuberant throughout but looking tired and drained at the end, Comissiona plunged into his woodwind section to thank certain old friends. Exciting brief solo performances were given by clarinetist Steven Barta, bassoonist Phillip A.M. Kolker, flutist Emily Controulis, oboist Joseph Turner, piccolo player Laurie Sokoloff, English horn player Keith Kummer, violinist Herbert Greenberg and percussionist Christopher Williams.

The 10th Symphony was the second work the conductor chose that has ties to his life for 10 weeks of the year while he is music director of the Helsinki Philharmonic. The opener, played briskly, was the Finnish patriotic hymn, Sibelius' "Finlandia." As for the second, Comissiona says he views the 10th Symphony differently since he has soaked in the Baltic landscape and mentality and met Shostakovich friends who described him as a very nervous, tense, shy man. "It's not just all anti-Communist propaganda but also a personal inner expression of different emotions," the conductor feels.

As the featured soloist last night, Cecile Ousset, the French pianist, vigorously played runs, trills, bouncing chords and other pyrotechnics in her presentation of Liszt's Romantic potboiler, "Piano Concerto No. 1." Her fast attack showed some soft and slow playful moments but generally the bold tones called for in Liszt's overheated score. The program is repeated at 8:15 p.m. tonight. Shostakovich's 10th alone is offered at 11 a.m. in a Casual Concert tomorrow.

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